Located in coastal North Carolina, Onslow County is most notable for being the site of Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps training facility. The largest city is Jacksonville, which is the county seat as well. As of 2010, the population was 177,772.
Outside of Jacksonville, the county is largely agrarian and rural. Though the military dominates the county’s economy, agriculture and tourism is also paramount.
Politically, Onslow County is strongly Republican. It is one of the few counties in eastern North Carolina where Republicans outpace Democrats in voter registration. Mitt Romney carried Onslow with over 60% of the vote in 2012. One reason Onslow is so Republican is because of the relative lack of black voters. Whites in Onslow County are conservative even by eastern North Carolina standards; Mitt Romney won an estimated 84% of the white vote here.
Due to the number of active duty military veterans, Onslow County consistently posts some of the worst voter turnout rates in North Carolina.
1988: R+19 (Solid Republican)
1992: R+22 (Solid Republican)
1996: R+28 (Solid Republican)
2000: R+31 (Solid Republican)
2004: R+36 (Solid Republican)
2008: R+28 (Solid Republican)
2012: R+31 (Solid Republican)
Forecast: Onslow County has been solidly Republican for a long time. The last Democrat to carry the county in a presidential contest was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Since then, Republicans have solidified their hold of the white vote, and perhaps have been helped here by appearing as the more pro-military party. Either due to loyalty to President George W. Bush or mistrust for John Kerry, Onslow trended strongly red in 2004. But greater registration of African Americans and a better performance among independents helped Barack Obama push the county back to the left. Notably, Obama carried Camp Lejeune. In 2012, however, Onslow trended Republican, like many white areas in North Carolina, and Camp Lejeune voted for Romney.
Though Onslow is not expected to shift substantially in favor of one party, it is expected to grow in terms of population. This will benefit the Republican Party. The growth rate during the 2000s was 18.23%, about the state average and well above the national average. The county is expected to grow at a slightly slower pace during the 2010s.
There is a clear racial disparity in growth patterns. While whites grew at a rate of 21.45% during the last decade, blacks suffered a net loss of population. This suggests that Onslow is seeing some of the same trends as other coastal counties in North Carolina – namely in-migration of wealthy people who have come to buy beachfront property. This is a Republican-leaning demographic.
With the combination of military, wealthy retirees and old-fashioned Down East conservatism, it is almost remarkable that President Obama received 36% of the vote here in 2012. In the future, that could prove to be something of a high-water mark for Democrats.